It is no exaggeration to say that Portrait from Sweden are the current shooting stars of the traditional European Metal scene. No doubt there is quite a buzz around the band at the moment. Here in Germany Rock Hard and Heavy! magazine are self-confessed supporters of the group, the same goes for Sweden Rock in their home country. Even sleepy England has taken Portraits to its heart, as guitarist Richard Lagergren explains: "Well, Terrorizer wrote some nice things and we've been featured in there from time to time too, and Metal Hammer I think … maybe some more, I don't remember now." After the release of their self-titled debut album Portrait had two line-up changes. Erik Jansson is the new man on bass. Richard keeps it short and simple: "What is there to say? It didn't work out with our former bassist, thus he left the band and we quickly found the man we should have had from the beginning. Another one of those immediate clicks really, Erik fits 100%." Before that, Portrait had also changed the singer: "That's right. That, too, should have happened much earlier." With a new, thundering line-up they are ready to go and have recorded a brand new 7" single exclusively for High Roller Records. "The Murder Of All Things Righteous" is the first record to feature Per Karlsson on vocals. Richard Lagergren comments: "I think our new material is a pretty logical continuation of that on our first album. The A-side is a semi-fast, dark and melodic one, showcasing many of the sides of Portrait in one track. The B-side, 'Son of All Graves', is a moody, very old school, rock based kind of tune. That one is almost two years old now, being the first song we wrote after having finished our first album I think. 'The Murder Of All Things Righteous' on the other hand is one of our more recent songs." In how far did the voice of Per Karlsson influence the new direction of Portrait? Richard does not take long to answer this one: "I'd say it influences us in the way that we nowadays feel very confident in the capabilities of our vocalist. Our direction has not really changed in any way. And it's still me and Christian writing the songs."
I did see Portrait at the 2009 Headbangers Open Air festival and somehow their overall performance was a bit below par. What happened? How did the band feel on stage? Richard explains what happened: "We had some fatal technical problems. Among other things the sound engineer fucked up and one of the guitars was killed totally from the beginning. This lasted for the main part of our show, while we were hoping for them to fix it. We ended up being this close to just smash everything to pieces and tell everyone to fuck off - and not in a good way. Besides, our set was shortened down to just five songs because of the schedule having gone wrong. So, well, I guess we have all felt more inspired and performed better on stage! But, oh well, I guess we beat Zed Yago at least, ha, ha." Yes, they did that for sure. All in all, Portrait is a very active live band: "Well, the interest has from time to time been pretty big, we have gotten quite a few offers and agreed on the ones we considered worthwhile. Yes, it's important for us to play live, and we are going to do it a lot more with our next album." However, the musicians of Portrait are their own worst critics, which is quite frightening, actually: "The ultimate Portrait show? We're not there yet! The shows are not 20% of what they are going to be. We would like to do so much more, but yet there are financial and other obstacles to overcome. Anyway, some of the best gigs this far were in Oberhausen, Germany, another German one with Anvil, and perhaps on the Sweden Rock festival. Our worst shows actually were those at Keep it True and Headbangers Open Air, with good margins …" It seems as if the band chooses their words very carefully. No big-headed rock stars there ... And Portrait has every reason to be proud of what they have achieved so far. With their debut album way into the third pressing, they rate as one of the most successful, if not THE most successful band on High Roller Records. Richard: "Well, we knew we had a good album from the start, looking at the songs themselves. I don't know if I'm that surprised after all, though High Roller has had a few cool releases, such as that Darkness box set for instance. Either way it feels good and right." So how much pressure do Portrait actually feel to follow their strong debut with an even stronger second album? Richard does not seem to be too bothered by all those high expectations: "As I said before, we had a good album there, but in the end some things could have been done better. Among other things, I really wish that Per, our current vocalist, would have sung on there … and that the album would have been recorded in a studio. It's more like a demo to me. This may have helped spurring us to create something even better now. Some artists talk about how they don't really think of their discography in terms of albums, but as one long chain of songs, and while I am clearly an album thinker, it makes sense in the way that you don't stop making music, either way. We're simply marching onward on the same, cursed path." Hmm, so Roadrunner or Nuclear Blast have not yet opened their cheque books then? Is a label change on the cards? Portrait's main songwriting brain keeps the ball on the ground: "Nothing is decided yet, but this far our experience with High Roller Records is good, I can say that much."
What would be the next step up the ladder for Portrait, a full European tour as a support to a major band like Iron Maiden, Saxon or Judas Priest? Scandinavians do after all have a very unique sense of humour: "We are just waiting for the phone to ring." And who knows, it might as well ring in earnest...